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Apple and Emotional Discussions Around Adobe Flash Player

Now let’s talk business, pretending that we understand how it works

The recent announcement of iPad has ignited yet another wave of emotional discussions around the role of Flash Player in the evolution of mankind.  People easily take sides and everyone seems to know what’s right and what’s wrong.  Actually the word ‘’people” is too vague in this context, because vast majority of the population has no idea what Flash Player is, and they don’t have to know!  As long as they go to youtube and it plays videos people are happy and casually say, “Youtube is a great site!”  

On the same note, I have no idea how my car operates. Back in my school days, I’ve learned that some stuff burns inside the engine producing another powerful stuff that make the wheels spin.  Do I need to know more? Absolutely not. I lease cars and change them every three years.  Once a year I visit those 10-min oil change shops, and people open up the hood and do something to my car, which supposedly helps it run longer.



BTW, believe it or not, 80% of the people working in these shops don’t have deep understanding of how the car operates either. They have a better idea than me, but only people who designed the engine of my car know how it works.
The same holds true for Flash Player, which divides the Earth population into four distinct groups. The first group has about  a dozen of people who know how Flash Player really works.

A couple of hundred people belong to the second group. They believe they know how Flash Player works,  and I’m one of them. For example, in the upcoming seminars in Brussels and San Antonio, CA you’ll hear me explaining how Flash Players slices your code and allocates CPU cycles depending on the nature of the program it runs – more for UI rendering and less for the ActionScript Byte Code, or vice versa. I believe I understand how it works and will be happy to share with you my beliefs.

The third group of people consists of millions of software developers who either believe that Flash Player is a proprietary trash that should burn in hell, or those who say there’s no life without Flash Player.  
The fourth group are the people who never knew what the Flash Player was and lived happily ever after.

Now let’s talk business, pretending that we understand how it works.  Let’s enjoy badmouthing big guys: Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft. It’s easy because they are filthy rich corporations that want your hard earned money for their proprietary software that crashes, gives you blue screens, works slow, and has as many bugs as software written by you.

Yes, Apple products look polished. But until you can afford them it’s clear that only stupid people buy them - your netbook running Windows can do the same things for cheap.   Similarly both Hyndai and Mercedes owners consider each other idiots. Among computer literate people there’s a group of fanatics who equally hate both Apple and Microsoft as they want only free and open source software.  They don’t value their time and prefer to spend hours on making things work and reinventing the wheel  than using someone’s proprietary products.  These people are ready to constantly adjust and fix their HTML/JavaScript (do people still use the AJAX word?) Web applications, but will never accept the benefits of a cross-platform proprietary Virtual Machine such as Adobe’s Flash Player.  

Apple wants complete control on all the software that runs on their mobile hardware.  Since they can’t control the Flash Player’s code they don’t want it there.  Actually, Apple doesn’t want any competition to their system software on iPhone and iPad OS. You can use any Web browser as long as its name starts with an “S” and ends with an “i”. They invite developers to create programs for iPhone/iPad, but you can sell them only through iStore and that’s the main reason why they don’t want Flash Player there because  people will immediately start selling their games written for Flash.

On one hand, Apple says that Flash Player uses lots of resources and works slow on iPhone OS.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if one program runs slower than others on the same hardware there’s gotta be a way to improve its performance unless the owner of the hardware doesn’t want it to happen. And Apple is not willing to give Adobe the low-level API to use iPhone’s hardware more efficiently. Today, Apple wants to maintain the image of Flash Player as poorly written program.  

People who’ve been in the industry long enough remember how fifteen years ago Microsoft applied similar technique to kill WordPerfect, the competitor of Word at the time.  Microsoft was the owner of the code base of both THE OS and Word, and they didn’t want other word processors in the vicinities.

So far Adobe can’t find the key to the heart of Apple and Flash Player suffers.

I’d also want to bring your attention to another aspect that hurts Flash Player on the consumer-oriented market of Web applications. I’m talking about search engine optimization (SEO).  If you were a small business, would you consider creating a Web site for your company in Flash as opposed to HTML/Java script? Most of the small business owners wouldn’t want it. Why? Because they want their services to be found on the Web. If I sell vacuum cleaners or run a brothel in Nevada, I want the highest possible visibility on the Web.

Let’s take a concrete example – a Web site of our company that sells consulting services in development of rich enterprise applications with Flex and Java. Our Web site http://www.faratasystems.com runs in compiled ActionScript under Flash Player getting its content from external XML files.

What are the chances that someone who’s looking for Flex consultants on Yahoo! or via Bing search engine will find our Web site? You got it! We have zero chances of being found. What about Google? The chances are pretty much the same.  During the last two years I hear that Adobe gave Google some mysterious headless Flash Player (a.k.a Ichabod) that knows how to index an external content played by Flash Player. Does it work? I have my reservations.

You may say,  “Yakov, if you know all this, why in the world have you created the Web site of your company in Flash?” No worries guys, I’m not that stupid. The thing is that I have big mouth. I blog and  write articles heavily sprinkled with the proper keywords in plain HTML and JavaScript, and it helps.

Let’s do a hands-on experiment. Go to Google and type the following  words: enterprise development flex.  At the time of this writing, the first two entries on the first page refers to a book “Enterprise Development with Flex” that I co-authored with two of my colleagues at Farata Systems. The third and fourth entries will send you to my blogs at insideria.com. The fifth entry is an excerpt from our book published at Adobe Developers Connection site. The next entry will lead you to our book on Amazon.com. 

The entry number seven is from flexblog.faratasystems.com – it’s our Wordpress blog. None of these entries returned by Google was Flash content – all sites were plain HTML. Got the picture?

If you have spare time, check the second, third, fourth page of Google search results, and good luck in finding our nice, clean, and well designed Flash-only faratasystems.com.

Let’s get back to the original question, “What about a small business that sells vacuum cleaners online?” The chances are slim that they will write books and articles about their business hence their chances to be found online, if done in Flash, are close to zero.  Does it mean that using Flash Player for consumer oriented sites is a bad idea? Not at all, but you should play smart. If I’d be developing that vacuum cleaners’ Web site, I’d do it in HTML/JavaScript embedding Flash content in some portions of the Web site.

The picture is absolutely different in the enterprise  world of rich Internet applications. This is where Flash Player and corresponding technologies shine.

When I was developing a front end for a trading application of a foreign exchange company, I didn’t need it to be found by Google. I needed it to look and perform well, and nothing beats the Flash/J2EE combo there.  Take another example – an occasionally connected application for salesmen on the road. Adobe AIR (it embeds Flash Player) is the best tool for this job.

What’s the bottom line? Flash Player is an important part of today’s Web landscape. It’s not perfect, but there are areas where it’s the best if not the only solution. What about HTML 5? If the history of HTML 4 means anything to you, don’t expect HTML 5  to be a standard way of developing Web applications for another several years.  If you need to create an application that looks good and performs well today, go Flash Player 10.1 and above.

As to Apple and their bad behavior in iPhone OS, they won’t last long without Flash Player there. Take a look at this video showing great performance of Flash Player 10.1 on Nexus, the closest iPhone competitor. As soon as more smart mobile devices from other vendors (all of them will support Flash Player) will start competing with iPhone, Apple will surrender.

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More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion (https://java-champions.java.net). He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).

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